Wednesday, August 31, 2011

IOFA in Ethiopia: Support for Youth Aging out of Alternative Care Severely Lacking

With the overwhelming support from grassroots organizations in Ethiopia for IOFA's Transitions Initiative, the past week in Addis Ababa has been a successful one. Non-governmental organizations across missions are recognizing that the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood is one of the most critical stages in a young person’s life, particularly for those young people who have lived most of their lives in orphanages or other forms of institutionalized care. Many of our initial conversations, however, with organizations on the ground, confirm that the amount of support available to these youth is severely lacking. We met this week with Executive Director of Kingdom Vision International, Eyob Kolcha, to hear firsthand the concern about youth leaving care with little or no support. Mr. Kolcha stated the following:

"What are these youths to do? We rescue them when they are young so that they can know love and care, so that they have shelter and food. But when they grow up, where does our attention go? How do we expect them to survive on their own when we have made them so dependent? We can do better. We must do better. This Transition Initiative is where we can start together."

Eyob is right. We can do better and we must do better. In the upcoming weeks, as we continue our work and research in Addis Ababa, we will focus specifically on knowing how we can do better and building the Transitions Initiative around the answers to that question.

Next, IOFA will be conducting focus groups with young people who are about to leave care and who have already left care and are living on their own. We will learn about their experiences and hear about their proposed solutions. IOFA's Transitions Initiative Ethiopia is taking shape!

More to come.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

IOFA Supports Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force

IOFA is proud to support the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force in their major effort to identify and remove young girls from severe forms of trafficking and exploitation. This week, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and various law enforcement enforcement agencies conducted a major take down of a gang-managed human sex trafficking ring. IOFA is partnering with the CCSAO and The Salvation Army's STOP-IT program to develop and facilitate the human trafficking task force that helped to make this achievement possible.

We are delighted that law enforcement involved with this effort are building their cases and prosecuting the 9 traffickers arrested through a victim-centered approach. All of the dozens of children, adolescents, and young women violently coerced into prostitution were not arrested, but treated as victims and offered social service support. IOFA is proud to be part of this process and looks to continued work with our Cook County team!

Please read the Cook County State's Attorney's office PRESS RELEASE for more details on the effort and the IOFA partnership.

Friday, August 12, 2011

IOFA Begins Transitions Initiative Work in Ethiopia!

IOFA is proud to announce the launch of start up activities for the Transitions Initiative in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Graciously funded by the Phyllis Pehlke Fund, IOFA has placed two graduate interns (see introductions below) from the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration with our partner organization, Children's Heaven. Children's Heaven is a community-based support program for young girls who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. From July to September, IOFA will assist Children's Heaven in the adaptation of IOFA's Project Prepare curriculum to prepare older girls in the program for their transition to adulthood and independent living. Additionally, IOFA will be conducting focus groups with young people across Addis who have aged out of institutionalized or other forms of temporary care. Similar to our assessment in Cambodia, we will gather their perspectives and experiences on emerging into a community, as a young adult, with few resources and social connections. At the end of the assessment, IOFA will determine how to pursue the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia and will begin development of an effective and innovative support and services program for this vulnerable group.

On July 28, I led an informational meeting with 20 local non-governmental organizations working with youth in Ethiopia. The response to the Transitions Initiative was extremely positive and it is very clear that there is an extreme gap in services to youth aging out of temporary care and a high risk of exploitation and abuse as they emerge into their young adult years.

IOFA wishes to thank all the donors who gave to the Phyllis Pehlke Fund in honor of my mother-in-law. We know she would be very proud of this project and the support that IOFA will provide to vulnerable young people as they age out of temporary care and begin their transition to adulthood.

More information to come! Thanks to everyone for supporting IOFA and this critical work!



Nikel Bailey, IOFA Program Development Intern:
Helping people and communities has always been an interest of mine. This is why I continue to work in the field of social work. Having had experience working with youth and families that have suffered from trauma and are infected/affected with HIV/AIDS, I have worked as a counselor, case manager, program coordinator and facilitator. My experiences also include program research and evaluation. Currently, I am a graduate student in The School of Social Service Administration at The University of Chicago and will be graduating with a master’s degree in March 2012.

Throughout my work experience I have always asked the question: How can I best help you? I ask this question instead of jumping to give advice because it is critical that we take time to learn the strengths and needs of the people we are serving before creating an ill-fitting solution. This is why I am excited about the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia.

During the next couple of months, we will be conducting research and assessing the needs of youth in alternative care and youth aging out of care. Through these in person interviews we will be able to shape the Transitions Initiative according to the needs of this population in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our findings will help us best serve these, often overlooked, youth. I look forward to the remaining time I will spend at Children’s Heaven in Ethiopia this summer gathering information and implementing this new project. I am also very thankful to be a part of this new initiative.

Carly Loehrke, IOFA Program Development Intern

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. -William James

Throughout the world, regardless of religion, profession, gender, or culture, I have encountered people who are agents of change in their community. Living examples of change, these community leaders’ contributions are contagious- inspiring us to strive toward being able to say, “I made a difference today.”
The first time those words authentically represented my experiences came while I was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa. While there to teach English as Foreign Language at the local secondary school, I saw that the needs of our community extended well beyond that. By two years end, I was involved in several community projects- managing the construction of a community basketball court, collaborating to improve English education curriculum, and participating in an HIV/AIDS formation bike ride. However, what truly changed the trajectory of my life was the implementation of a girls’ empowerment camp. During the camp, for the first time, not only could I see the message of purpose and meaning seeping into the fabric of our girls, but it was seeping into me, too. As trite as it made sound, a year into my service, after the conclusion of the first girls’ camp, I had a new energy about me—an energy that pushed me toward professional social work.

Soon after my time in Benin ended, I began my graduate education at the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration (SSA). I plan to work in International Social Work, continuing to collaborate with youth across cultures. More specifically, I intend to focus my work on addressing barriers to girls’ education.

Following our first week of introductory planning meetings here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I am energized to be working as an intern for the The Transitions Initiative with IOFA, a comprehensive support program for orphaned youth aging out of temporary care. The same inspiration that motivated my work in Benin is present here, too. I am honored and excited to be a member of IOFA and to be here in Addis Ababa working on the Transitions Initiative.